The Southwest is a Unique Place
“The Southwest is like no place else on earth” says author Jacqueline Soule. I agree – it has the very unique wildflower called Baileya.
Actually, I’m quoting myself there, because I started a chapter of a book that way once. I went on to explain that the Southwest is a unique geographic area with unique growing conditions, as well as plants and animals found no place else on this earth. Today I would like to share with you one of those lovely plants that is beginning to bloom in the warmer areas of our region right about now – Baileya multiradiata, the desert marigold.
Desert Marigold and Kin
Although called “desert marigold,” Baileya (bail-ee-ah) is only a very distant relative of the true marigolds of the genus Tagetes (topic of my dissertation). Both are in the Compositae, or Sunflower, family. The family is called Compositae because each bloom is composed of both disk flowers and ray flowers. Compositae also are called Asteraceae by some.
The Sunflower Family is perhaps the largest plant family on earth and includes vegetables like lettuce and artichoke. It also has many familiar garden flowers like asters, daisies, chrysanthemum, cosmos, and of course, the sunflowers. Why do I love this family? Because there are so many beautiful native species that are now available in the local nursery trade and should be in anyone’s low-water landscape. I shared information about the lovely low-water native zinnias just a few weeks ago (here).
But back to today’s topic – the desert marigold.
Baileya multiradiata Blooms
The desert marigold has lovely showy yellow flowers in late winter (in low deserts). With a little extra water, flowering will last into summer, and even right through until frost nips the buds. It will keep on flowering and setting seed as long as the soils are warm. The lesser goldfinch adore the seeds, so I never remove the spent blooms. I occasionally cut some blooms for indoors though, and the flowers last about a week in a vase.
Baileya In the Landscape
This low perennial reaches around 1 foot tall, and clumps can gradually spread to a foot wide. The silvery blue leaves cluster mostly at the base. The leaves are highly variable and can be toothed or not, an unusual trait in plants. They have a dandelion-like taproot but are a lot easier to remove than dandelions – but why would you want to?
The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is a great resource for information on native plants. They share this information that Baileya… “is a well-behaved plant that thrives in poor, dry soils and extreme heat. It is subject to crown rot if the soil is too wet. A stand of desert marigold will self-sow in favorable conditions. The seedling rosettes require a period of cold dormancy to set buds.”
Baileya multiradiata is native to southern California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, southwestern Utah, western Texas, and northern Mexico. The plant is cold hardy down to zone 6, so it can grow in high deserts and some mountain areas. It often grows along our Southwestern roads. It grows so easily that it’s often included in many re-vegetation mixes used by transportation departments.
You might see tiny green caterpillars on your plants — don’t be alarmed. They are larvae of the unique desert-marigold moth (Schinia miniana), a tiny rust and gold moth that feeds exclusively on the Baileya. As far as we know they don’t kill the plants.
Care of Baileya and other natives is scattered through my book Month by Month Gardening for Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press). This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there, we will get a few pennies.
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